Love it or loathe it, Twitter (recently renamed X) has had the greatest impact on mass communication since Gutenberg typeset his first page. Founded in 2006, Twitter has mushroomed into a near-universal platform for the exchange of ideas, memes and information (including mis- and disinformation). But as it grew, so did its dependence on advertising revenue—and major corporations became increasingly reluctant to have their brand seen on a platform that featured racist slurs, conspiracy theories and misogynistic rants. To keep the money stream flowing, Twitter had to rein in its users—to the chagrin of many Twitter users, including co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Enter Elon Musk, the ultimate “break stuff and see what happens” entrepreneur and free speech advocate who bought Twitter in 2022 after the most tumultuous takeover bid ever. And, as Ben Mezrich details in Breaking Twitter: Elon Musk and the Most Controversial Corporate Takeover in History, what happened was chaotic, sometimes exhilarating and frequently heartbreaking.
Mezrich makes clear from the outset that Breaking Twitter is not a history of Musk’s role as owner and CEO. Instead, Mezrich says, it is his fact-based interpretation of those events. He relies on interviews, firsthand sources and countless documents referenced in-text and in endnotes to support his analysis. But, similar to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Breaking Twitter uses a variety of literary narrative techniques such as point-of-view chapters, re-imagined dialogue and composite characters to tell what reads like a modern myth. The result is a highly engaging and convincing portrayal of Musk’s disastrous impact on Twitter—and its impact on him.
In Mezrich’s version of the story, Twitter broke Musk. The book opens with a glittering vision of Twitter in 2020—one that quickly disintegrates into confusion, disarray and dysfunction after its acquisition by Musk. Mezrich sees Musk taking a similar path as he transforms from the rockstar boy genius of Tesla and Space X to the trolling, erratic and capricious dictator of Twitter. Like the original story of Icarus, Breaking Twitter warns that achieving an ambitious goal can result in cosmic punishment.